Friday, July 10, 2009

The Unrealistic Pursuit of Immortality

Myra Christopher
July 10, 2009

I wish every family in America struggling with treatment decisions for an incapacitated, frail, elderly loved one would read Jane Gross’s article, “Sisters Face Death With Dignity and Reverence”, in the New York Times July 9.

It reframes the end-of-life care debate in this country from what Gross refers to as the “American black-and-white way of thinking: either we have to throw everything we’ve got at keeping people alive or leave them on the sidewalk to die.” And it describes the benefits of palliative care and hospice over the unrealistic pursuit of immortality via aggressive medical intervention by telling the stories of a group of elderly Sisters of St. Joseph living together in convent in New York.

Over and over again, I see loving families make terrible decisions because we have come to believe wrongly that in all circumstances more healthcare is better healthcare. Yet, there is a growing body of data that, at the end of life, it is simply not true.

Without question, modern medicine has tremendous benefits to offer. I am regularly astounded by what can be and what is done for the benefit of patients, but when applied indiscriminately, I am also often horrified.

In the Times article, Sister Mary Lou Mitchell, the president of the Sisters of St. Joseph congregation, is quoted as saying, “We approach our living and our dying in the same way, with discernment, maybe this is one of the messages we can send to society, by modeling it.”

I hope so, Sister.


Sisters Face Death With Dignity and Reverence, New York Times, July 9

Making Your Wishes Known for End-of-Life Care


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